FULL LIFE by BondiBlue, with help from squirrelking
Chapter 2: Necessary Action
John Freeman left Black Mesa East as soon as he could, not saying a word, vaguely registering a few comments about Eli and Nova Prospekt as he stormed out. He needed to be alone, to deal with the cocktail of intense emotion from his brother Gordon's sudden reappearance and just as sudden death in solitude.
John mounted his combine motorcycle and, after reaching the canal roads, opened the throttle as far as it went. An unwise decision, as he had forgotten the fact that it had almost no fuel left, and sputtered to a halt within seconds. John sighed, and then winced in revulsion as he noticed that he had stopped on top of a pile of corpses. He didn't even want to look; two decades of desensitization to death had been not totally eradicated, but broken down somewhat, by the sight of his brother's singed body.
John looked around. There was a car of some kind on the road ahead of him. Like a dune buggy, but reddish, much more jury-rigged, and with a strange looking orange-and-green weapon mounted on the hood, like an oversized maker's mark. John wrested the gun from its stand, noting that it was blockier and heavier than the Combine's normal pulse rifles. He aimed at a nearby tree and pulled the trigger experimentally.
...And the barren tree crashing to the ground. John gasped as he noticed a nest of eggs in the tangled branches of the tree, and ran up to examine them. He exhaled as he saw none of the eggs were smashed, the impact cushioned by the nest.
"There's enough death in this miserable world already." John muttered, as he tucked the nest into a sapling.
The ride back to Civil Protection Dispatch in the APC was long and uneventful. By the time he returned, he had been able to settle down and formulate a very basic plan of action. First order of business was to go to a computer terminal and find any information about Striders he could. It took a little digging, but at the end John found what he was looking for; an internal memo from the Citadel's production facilities. As John read, he realized the flaw in the Strider's design. It was an easily exploitable weakness, so much so that it didn't even require planning. Most of the necessary action had already been done by Gordon anyway, so it would be even easier.
At the thought of Gordon, John glanced at the picture he had kept by his side for years. It was from 2 years before the entire world had been blasted to hell, and it was ridiculously idyllic: The Freeman family at their Thanksgiving dinner, Gordon with a mouthful of potatoes and John in an animated conversation with a long-dead uncle.
"I'm not doing it just for Gordon." John blinked back tears. "I'm doing this for all of us."
John really felt there should be anticipatory music playing as he loaded his weaponry into a vacated APC. Unfortunately, on his way out, a Combine soldier flagged him down.
"We've been having some thefts of Force property at this dispatch lately." said the vocoder-muffled voice. "Um..." "And we're cracking down hard on those responsible." "I..." "So, watch out if anyone tries to steal that. And if they do, take 'em to me immediately." "Uh, got it.", said John. He had to mentally play back the conversation in his mind before he finally realized and burst out laughing.
John was impressed at the APC's slick handling, which meant it could haul its bulk over scaling headcrab colonies, smashed cars and gutted Manhacks, and for that matter almost any obstacle.
That was a big 'almost', John reflected as he pulled to a stop in front of a huge concrete block embedded in the ground, the remains of a destroyed apartment complex. He awkwardly picked up a rocket launcher, gingerly wiping it free of Gordon's blood, and hauled it past the vast roadblock, to find...
...nothing. He searched around the site, puzzled that there were so few signs of life. Then he made an odd satisfied groan as he heard the all too familiar moans of a zombie. But, as he searched high and low, he saw nothing.
"What's next, zombie ghosts?" he shouted to thin air, breaking the oppressive silence.
Then he heard the moan again, and reflexively fired a shot in the general direction of the noise. He wasn't surprised by the mottled greenish mist that was all that was left of an unlucky headcrab, but was by both the laughing groans of a poison zombie getting hit by a rather large chunk of shrapnel, and the huge amount of dust the shot had kicked up. With a start, he realized the way to get past, and chuckled at its simplicity.
Ten seconds later the job was done: The rocket launcher with one less round chambered, the APC dusty but unscathed, detritus clouding the air, and the huge block of concrete nowhere to be found. With a sneeze, John continued on his way.
John's arrival at Black Mesa East was heralded by the Strider, showing signs of hasty repair and thumping its way past the hydroelectric plant that had hid the base from detection for so long. John got out of the car, and walked slowly, transfixed by the dark majesty of the towering synth as it blasted away a section of rock, momentarily blinding him.
As the Strider whined loudly, John came to his senses and remembered his plan. Based on the memo he had found, he had been able to construct a working hypothesis as to how to best dispatch the strider: blow the damned thing up. Apparently, the buglike underbelly was totally unarmored, making it particularly vulnerable to high explosives. John noticed that this Strider's underbelly already had char marks on it; the remnant of Gordon's quick-thinking pulse backfire.
Gordon! The word galvanized John, making him race back to the car and try to find his rocket. This is it, he thought. This is revenge. Right here, right now. Gordon, this is for you.
As John assembled his rocket launcher, the Strider took notice, and started thundering toward him. John's breathing came in quick gasps as he finally loaded a round and emerged, sweating with the load of the weapon, from the APC.
The Strider turned straight toward John, and made an oscillatory noise. John dimly registered that it was an alarm, but to him it sounded like it was laughing evilly.
"DON'T LAUGH!" John shouted as he pulled the trigger. "DON'T LAUGH AT MY BROTHER!"
The shouting was drowned out by first the almighty explosion, and then a sad moan as the Strider gracefully fell to the ground. John just stood there for several seconds, his breathing heavy.
He looked around. There was a calm stillness. The scrap yard was empty except for him, what was left of the strider, and...
"Gordon!" John rushed to the body, now unrecognizable as the man he had known. The antimatter-matter reaction of the Strider's cannon had torn off his skin, leaving a grisly husk that looked like something from a horror film. As John sadly picked up the corpse, a tear dropped on to a rib and down onto a pectoral. John couldn't bear it. He lifted up the head...
John Freeman froze in horror. He stared in disbelief at the round carapace perched on top of his brother's face. Then he realized what he was looking at: A fast headcrab. Or, to be more accurate, a fast headcrab zombie, and one which was currently stirring.
John gasped and stumbled to his feet as the zombie clambered to life. John knew Zombie habits well, and instinctively backed away, expecting a guttural roar of warning, twisted from the victim's last words as the headcrab took over the brain.
Too late, John realized what that meant. "JOOOOOOHN!" came the agonized scream. "RUUUUUN! JOOOOOOHN!"
Damn, this is some good stuff. The strider's laugh and John's response was what really got me. Such a silly moment in the original story now made into an honestly powerful moment. Excellent work.
I don't know if you have any plans to continue with Hero Beggining or not, and I'd love to see if it you did, but even if not I've had a good time reading through these two. The conversion was masterful - if I hadn't known about the original story I wouldn't have been able to tell this was rewritten from a trollfic. I may have to check out your original story now, too.